What I Believe

by Bill St. Clair
10 March 2016

As I approach sixty years on the planet, it has become clear that my personal beliefs are pretty much set. Not that I'm closed to changing my mind should reality prove me wrong, but I've experienced enough that I believe I have a pretty good idea of where I'm at.

This essay covers my beliefs about physical reality. I also believe that there is a spiritual reality encompassing the physical, but I will not address that here.

My beliefs are not necessarily in sync with any claimed jurisdiction's idea of "the law". Nor are they necessarily in agreement with any religion's tenets. Nor do any of those hold much credence for me. My beliefs are uniquely mine. More on practical implications of disagreeing with established "authority" near the end of this essay.

My beliefs are centered around the idea of rights. A right allows me particular actions without asking anyone's permission. If I consider something to be a right, then I feel justified in defending myself should anyone attempt to stop me from excercising it. With lethal force, if necessary. This is similar, but not identical to the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution for the United States of America. The Bill of Rights enumerates actions that the government is not supposed to contravene, yet that they routinely regulate or criminalize. Violate my personal rights at your peril. I depend on no government to enforce them.


I believe that the only proper basis of rights is property. I own my body and my mind. I own everything that I create with my body and my mind. I own anything that another person rightfully owned and voluntarily gives to me, whether as a gift or in trade for services or property that I rightfully owned.

I believe that a voluntary contract can give another person limited control over some of my property, without actually transferring ownership.

There is no such thing as a social contract.


I believe that sapient beings (persons) have the right to do absolutely anything that does not directly harm a non-consenting other or their property. Non-sapient beings (most animals, all plants, fetuses) have no rights. They are property.

If you take away nothing else from this essay, let the preceding paragraph be it. I say "most animals" because I believe that apes, chimpanzees, dolphins, and whales are likely sapient.

Sapience is often defined as wisdom, or the ability of an organism or entity to act with appropriate judgement, a mental faculty which is a component of intelligence or alternatively may be considered an additional faculty, apart from intelligence, with its own properties.

-- Wikipedia

I believe that I have the right to defend my person and property from anyone who attempts to trespass against me, using as much force, including lethal force, as I deem necessary. I may also defend myself from credible threats of actual trespass.

I believe that I have the right to offer my property and services to any consenting other, in exchange for whatever they and I agree on, and that nobody may rightfully require licensing of my services or registration of my property, nor may they tax or prohibit any consensual exchange.

I believe that crime is the intentional violation of a person's rights. Period. No victim, no crime. Those who are determined to have violated a person's rights may rightfully be forced to provide restitution, restoring the victim to wholeness with medical care and/or return or replacement of stolen or damaged property.

Since no restitution is possible for murder or permanent bodily harm, that is a special case, the proper treatment for which I have not decided. Nor have I decided a proper way to determine criminal culpability, though a unanimous jury decision, as long as the jury is chosen randomly, from people who may actually know the alleged perpetrator, is probably a reasonable method.


I believe that the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP) is sufficient to properly preserve rights in a society of free persons. Law needs no other basis. I do my best to adhere to the ZAP.

Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP):

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor will a libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.

-- L. Neil Smith


My beliefs have many implications. I'll detail a few of them here. All are limited by the primary right: I may not rightfully do something that directly harms a non-consenting other or their property.

I have the right to cultivate, process, package, sell, buy, possess, and ingest (eat, smoke, snort, inject, however) anything I wish, any food, drug, medicine, poison, anything. No matter how harmful it is to me.

"Every man, woman, and responsible child has an unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon -- rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything -- any time, any place, without asking anyone's permission." -- L. Neil Smith

And to manufacture and sell any weapon.

I have a right to life, meaning nobody may rightfully harm me, but I do not have a right to food, shelter, clothing, medical care, child care, paid sick leave, retirement, or anything else that somebody else must provide in order for me to have. I may create or trade or seek voluntary charity for all those things, but they are not mine for the asking.

Taxation is theft, specifically extortion, a heinous crime.

Arrest is kidnapping under color of law. It is also a heinous crime, a capital crime, unless there is probable cause that the arrested person has violated someone's rights, and can rightfully be forced to give restitution to his victim.

Prior restraint is plumb out. Though hitting a child with your car may rightly be considered a crime, driving down Main Street past a grade school at 90 mph and not hitting anybody is not a crime, since it has no victim, hence it may not be forbidden.

All speech that does not cause harm and is not a credible threat of actual crime is a right. Hence, libel, slander, and yelling "Fire!" in a crowded place are not rightful speech, but all other speech and writing is, on your own property.

I support intellectual property. As a practical matter, it's bloody hard to enforce, but if you wrote that book, or that song, or that code, it's yours. You may decide to license its use instead of giving it away, and I will respect your wishes. Yet I release most of my personally-written software as open source, licensed to require only credit of my authorship. Sharing is also a valid choice.

If I want to allow smoking in my restaurant, or ban it, or have smoking and non-smoking sections, or require that all patrons actually be smoking when they enter the premises: my property, my rules. Nobody's business if I do.

If I want to forbid Scotsmen from shopping in my store, or if I will allow only Scotsmen dressed in traditional kilts to enter my store: my property, my rules. Nobody's business if I do.

Of course, you're free to boycott my business if you don't like my rules, and to encourage your friends to join the boycott. The market will decide if my business survives.

Since taxation is not allowed, nor is arrest for anything but an actual crime with an actual live victim, mine is an anarchist philosophy. If you can create a government that doesn't depend on taxation and doesn't forbid anything but real crime or demand anything whatsoever, be my guest, but I doubt it will be anything like what we're used to thinking of as the state.

Fetuses, Infants, and Children

Developing sapient beings are a special class. Sperm and eggs become fetuses become infants become children become sapient beings with rights. Until sapience, they are basically the property of their parents or guardians.

There is no magical age at which a child becomes sapient. Most are sapient before they can speak, sometime in the first year after birth. Some earlier. Some never. But I am uncomfortable with allowing infanticide after birth, even though I have no good place in my property-based philosophy for that. So I consider a human infant to be sapient at birth.

Before birth, the fetus is the mother's property. She may do with it as she wishes, including abortion, and it's nobody's business if she does, though I would prefer if she gave the father some input into the decision to abort.

Criminalizing abortion because a fetus is a potential sapient being would criminalize not impregnating that beautiful, fertile twenty-something walking down the street. Her egg is also a potential sapient being. Don't go there, you who would classify abortion as murder. Sapient beings have rights. Non-sapient beings and inanimate objects are property.

Children, though sapient, take a while to be able to give informed consent. Again, there is no magical age at which it happens, and some never become able. The best I can come up with is that when a child proclaims that (s)he wishes to be considered able to give consent, then I must respect those wishes. Until then, children are in a sort of limbo where they are not the property of their parents or guardians, but their parents or guardians are responsible for giving consent for them.

"The Law"

My beliefs, whether you agree or not, are at odds with lots of legal statutes. Taxes, licensing, registration, drugs, prostitution, gambling, weapons, prisons, all tied to criminal statutes that run roughshod over my so-called "rights". Violate any one of those statutes, and men with guns will hunt you down, kidnap (arrest) you, and lock you in a cage. If you turn down a plea bargain, a stacked jury of anybody but your peers will almost certainly find you guilty, and the judge will sentence you to an extended stay in a cage, for daring to claim innocence of one of those victimless so-called "crimes".

What to do? Obey the "law" when you must. But when unlikely to be caught: An it harm none, do what ye will.

And spread the gospel of true liberty far and wide until so many refuse to obey, until so few juries will convict, that victimless "crimes" become unenforceable.

[There's a prettier version of this essay on Medium]